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Creating a Mentoring Portfolio

While IBM has built a portfolio of mentoring activities, traditional forms of mentoring are still part of this innovative mixture. There is some disagreement on the effectiveness of most formal mentoring programs.28 Key issues of debate include clarity of mentoring goals and objectives, access to mentoring relationships across different functional and expertise areas, and employee input into the matching process. Based on IBM’s internal benchmarking, similar issues were also identified. Access to information in a “just-in-time” manner, employees being able to gain critical knowledge, and support to develop important competencies that are transferrable across business units also emerged. Early on, one of the ways IBM intended to reach its strategic objective of creating organizational intelligence was to capitalize on its Experiential Learning Opportunities Portfolio described in Chapter 2, “Organizational Intelligence: Using Just-in-Time Mentoring Solutions.” The Experiential Learning Portfolio uses a web-based and cross-functional approach to traditional mentoring, yet provides employees with global experiential developmental opportunities, such as stretch assignments, cross-unit projects, job shadowing activities, and a host of other features that are typically found in traditional mentoring programs. However, the access to and sharing of knowledge about mentoring activities was vastly increased because of the Experiential Learning Opportunities initiative. It provides a mechanism for employees to develop critical and transferable skills because they can access existing and emerging developmental opportunities and mentoring on a global basis.

The ways in which mentoring is developed within IBM is evidence of the importance the organization places on developing communities of knowledge worldwide to support and sustain organizational intelligence. For example, IBM’s Latin American team developed the Blue Club Mentoring program, which was born out of frustration, feelings of isolation, and workplace stress articulated by new and less experienced managers within this region. Chapter 3, “Organizational Intelligence: Fostering Communities of Knowledge,” focuses on how Blue Club involves a “high-touch” approach to mentoring that provides support, information, and resources to up-line managers for use in mentoring sessions with new and less experienced managers. Especially within cultures that do not acknowledge a separation of professional and personal lives,29 the need to provide career and social support within a community or via group mentoring is important as people try to balance the demands of a highly competitive and rapidly changing work environment with the dual demands of their family and nonwork lives. As you will see from the Blue Club example, these types of “high-touch” mentoring relationships may take longer to develop but can help to support a company’s strategic objectives, such as IBM’s focus on building trust within its global business enterprise.

An imperative for IBM’s mentoring portfolio is to focus on how to build connections across people and across geographies. As a cutting-edge technology company, the use of virtual solutions to solve critical organizational challenges was part of the normal business process. As a result, IBM launched several virtual mentoring efforts to provide broad access to knowledge on a just-in-time basis. One example is the unique approach called “speed mentoring” discussed in Chapter 4, “Connecting People: Creating Meaningful Engagement.” This concept was developed within one unit and then expanded across the organization as a way of providing broad access to people, ideas, and solutions. Speed mentoring utilizes virtual group mentoring for problem-specific assistance, socialization of relatively new employees, or the sharing of vital information on current or emergent topics. As you will see, speed mentoring allows many people to gain access to information, connect with organizational experts, and develop their expertise by linking to these knowledge resources within a fast-paced, technology-enhanced environment.

Helping to strengthen and build connections across people involves mentoring activities that provide a wide variety of career as well as social and emotional support. In Chapter 5, “Connecting People: Mentoring as a Tool for Diversity and Inclusion,” we highlight the work of the Asian Diversity Network Group (ADNG), located at IBM Austin, Texas, that began mentoring employees in the United States and then expanded to mentoring new employees in the China Development and Research Labs. The ADNG is one of various Diversity Network Groups (DNG) within IBM that provides support for the expanding and diverse employee segments throughout the organization. Ron Glover, VP Global Workforce Diversity, described these networks as IBM’s “Diversity Army”; the network also includes the Women’s Subnet, where women of all levels and functions mentor each other and provide support. These various networks or affinity groups provide critical support for employees who may otherwise feel disconnected from the overall organization, or who work in remote or developing locations that may produce feelings of isolation.

In addition to the affinity group mentoring efforts, reverse mentoring is also part of IBM’s mentoring portfolio. As discussed in Chapter 6, “Connecting People: Using Mentoring to Signal Value in People,” most people think of mentoring only as a more “experienced” or senior-level person providing advice or expert knowledge to a more junior or younger person. The reverse mentoring effort within IBM involves a type of role reversal, whereby a senior-level person is actually mentored by a junior-level employee, usually one who is new to IBM—somewhere between a recent graduate and an employee with two years’ tenure or less. This example provides IBM with a better understanding of how mentoring not only helps to build relationships, but is also a powerful tool for knowledge transfer across generations throughout the organization. To build a culture of collaboration and innovation, knowledge must be shared across traditional boundaries such as functional unit, as well as location and demographic categories, such as generational diversity. The reverse mentoring effort within IBM provides a useful example of one approach for cutting across the boundaries that block the development and transfer of critical knowledge, and for supporting employee as well as organizational outcomes.

While mentoring can be successful in helping to address specific needs of the organization, a critical part of its success is sustaining the business impact of these efforts. While most organizations have broad reward and recognition programs, the marketing business unit within IBM combined mentoring and employee recognition to help support the exposure and visibility of employees within the group and provide critical metrics on its impact. In conjunction with its more traditional formal mentoring program, the marketing group developed a mentoring award and recognition program. Not only do individuals receive recognition for their functional knowledge or job-specific performance, but also the mentoring award helps to provide visible reinforcement and endorsement of these mentoring efforts as a valuable part of the business unit. As we discuss in Chapter 7, “Business Impact: Using Mentoring to Deliver Value for Competitive Advantage,” this effort has led to some innovative approaches for sustaining the mentoring effort within the marketing group.

In Chapter 8, “Business Impact: Using Mentoring Solutions to Solve ‘Wicked Problems,’” we discuss an initial pilot program that matched high-potential employees in South Africa with technical leaders and business executives in the United States for one-on-one mentoring relationships, along with monthly modules that covered global leadership competencies and critical business topics. The concept of this cross-geography program has been expanded to include the pairing of employees in different parts of China and India to technical leaders in mature organizations in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada. In addition, the Black Technical Leaders Forum (BTLF) was created out of a need for technical leaders to support the socialization, development, and connection of new and less experienced black technical employees throughout the organization. While initial concerns focused on retention of this diverse talent segment, the BTLF initiative developed a model that has been leveraged by other diverse constituencies within IBM’s global business enterprise. We use both of these innovative examples to discuss how mentoring can be integrated across the entire value chain of the organization. The activities of the BTLF and the use of mentoring as part of IBM’s South African expansion are powerful examples of how effective mentoring can help to address current issues faced by the organization and can also be integrated into emerging opportunities worldwide.

Each of these examples is provided within the context of the mentoring tools, techniques, and strategies that make them a good fit for the overall business model within IBM. Together with new and emerging research on mentoring, we focus each chapter on how mentoring can provide solutions to critical business challenges and help leverage emerging business opportunities. Sharing the knowledge gained by the IBM mentoring experience yields a wide range of potential contributions detailed throughout the chapters of this book.

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